Brazilian Finance Minister Fernando Haddad

Brazilian Finance Minister Fernando Haddad speaks at the Planalto Palace in Brasília on April 22, 2024.

(Photo: Ton Molina/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Top G20 Ministers Back 2% Wealth Tax for Global Billionaires

"It is time that the international community gets serious about tackling inequality and financing global public goods."

Ministers from four major economies on Thursday called for a 2% wealth tax targeting the world's billionaires—who currently only pay up to 0.5% of their wealth in personal income tax—to "invest in public goods such as health, education, the environment, and infrastructure."

Fernando Haddad, Brazil's finance minister; Svenja Schulze, Germany's minister for economic cooperation and development; Enoch Godongwana, South Africa's finance minister; Carlos Cuerpo, Spain's minister of economy, trade, and business; and María Jesús Montero, Spain's first vice president and finance minister, made their case in an opinion piece for The Guardian.

"The argument behind such tax is straightforward: We need to enhance the ability of our tax systems to fulfill the principle of fairness, such that contributions are in line with the capacity to pay," they explained. "Persisting loopholes in the system imply that high-net-worth individuals can minimize their income taxes."

"What the international community managed to do with the global minimum tax on multinational companies, it can do with billionaires."

Brazil, Germany, and South Africa are all Group of 20 members while Spain is a permanent guest. The ministers noted that "Brazil has made the fight against hunger, poverty, and inequality a priority of its G20 presidency, a priority that German development policy also pursues and that Spain has ambitiously addressed domestically and globally."

"By directing two-thirds of total expenditure on social services and wage support, as well as by calibrating tax policy administration, South Africa continues to target a progressive tax and fiscal agenda that confronts the country's legacy of income and wealth inequality," they wrote.

The ministers continued:

It is time that the international community gets serious about tackling inequality and financing global public goods. One of the key instruments that governments have for promoting more equality is tax policy. Not only does it have the potential to increase the fiscal space governments have to invest in social protection, education, and climate protection. Designed in a progressive way, it also ensures that everyone in society contributes to the common good in line with their ability to pay. A fair share contribution enhances social welfare.

With exactly these goals in mind, Brazil brought a proposal for a global minimum tax on billionaires to the negotiation table of the world's major economies for the first time. It is a necessary third pillar that complements the negotiations on the taxation of the digital economy and on a minimum corporate tax of 15% for multinationals. The renowned economist Gabriel Zucman sketched out how this might work. Currently, there are about 3,000 billionaires worldwide. The tax could be designed as a minimum levy equivalent to 2% of the wealth of the superrich. It would not apply to billionaires who already contribute a fair share in income taxes. However, those who manage to avoid paying income tax would be obliged to contribute more towards the common good.

The five ministers cited estimates suggesting that "such a tax would potentially unlock an additional $250 billion in annual tax revenues globally—this is roughly the amount of economic damages caused by extreme weather events last year."

"Of course, the argument that billionaires can easily shift their fortunes to low-tax jurisdictions and thus avoid the levy is a strong one. And this is why such a tax reform belongs on the agenda of the G20," they added. "International cooperation and global agreements are key to making such tax effective. What the international community managed to do with the global minimum tax on multinational companies, it can do with billionaires."

Guardian economics editor Larry Elliott reported Thursday that "Zucman is now fleshing out the technical details of a plan that will again be discussed by the G20 in June. France has indicated support for a wealth tax and Brazil has been encouraged that the U.S., while not backing a global wealth tax, did not oppose it."

The French economist told Elliott that "billionaires have the lowest effective tax rate of any social group. Having people with the highest ability to pay tax paying the least—I don't think anybody supports that."

Except the billionaires, of course. "I don't want to be naive. I know the superrich will fight," Zucman added. "They have a hatred of taxes on wealth. They will lobby governments. They will use the media they own."

The ministers' opinion piece follows the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank's Spring Meetings last week, during which anti-poverty campaigners pressured the largest economies to address inequality with policies like taxing the superrich and to pour resources into the global debt and climate crises.

"The IMF and World Bank say that tackling inequality is a priority but in the same breath back policies that drive up the divide between the rich and the rest," Kate Donald, head of Oxfam International's Washington D.C. office, said last week. "Ordinary people struggle more and more every day to make up for cuts to the public funding of healthcare, education, and transportation. This high-stakes hypocrisy has to end."

Oxfam America policy lead Rebecca Riddell declared Thursday that "extreme inequality stands in the way of solving our most urgent global challenges. We need to tax the ultrawealthy."

"Read this brilliant new op-ed on the case for a global tax on billionaires, by ministers from Brazil, Germany, South Africa, and Spain," Riddell added, posting the piece on social media.

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